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Yanique to deliver Phillis Wheatley Reading for her newest novel

“Monster in the Middle,” the latest novel from Tiphanie Yanique, associate professor of English and creative writing, explores identity, religion, class and more through the story of Fly, a Black musician, and Caribbean science teacher Stela.

In trying to answer what it means to belong, Tiphanie Yanique created a love story.

“Monster in the Middle,” the latest novel from the award-winning associate professor of English and creative writing at Emory College of Arts and Sciences, hits shelves today (Oct. 19), when she also delivers the Phillis Wheatley Reading in the Cox Ballroom.

The novel explores identity, religion, class and more through the story of Fly, a Black musician, and Caribbean science teacher Stela. They, like all of us, carry their ancestors’ experiences in addition to their own when they meet at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown.

“It’s a meditation, maybe, on the concept that even our most private things do not belong to us alone,” Yanique says. “Even something as private as who you fall in love with comes to you on historical terms.”

Yanique has earned praise for her storytelling craft and rich detail in language and structure since being named one of the 2010 National Book Awards “5 Under 35” for her debut story collection, “How to Escape from a Leper Colony.”

She infused magical realism through three generations of a family saga in her native Virgin Islands with her debut novel, “Land of Love and Drowning.”

Though she again crafted a multigenerational tale in her new book, Yanique uses historical touchstones, such as Sandra Day O’Connor’s historic appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court, in telling the history behind Fly and Stela’s story.

“I tell my students all the time, you have to know everything about your character,” she says. “What do they eat for breakfast? When did they break their arm? That helps you write them in a way that is specific and true.”

That detail and context allowed her to tackle a new challenge in her writing: Finding a way to explore both the emotional and intellectual questions about sex, love and romance — the sorts of things often derided in literary circles and broader society alike.

“What is more serious that the work we do to fall in love? It is one of the things that defines our humanity,” Yanique says. “It might be an egregious mistake that we don’t give serious intellectual attention to this very important endeavor, romantic love, which we all struggle through.”

Love, though, is not the only intimacy Yanique examines. Working backward from how we fall in love, she also shows how what we believe, both in terms of religion and of mental health, shapes how we understand the world in a search for love.

The novel may be about Fly and Stela falling in love, but the story is as much about how they belong to one another as how they belong to society.

“As a political writer, I want to show that what happened to you is not all of you,” Yanique says. “What’s happening in the culture is also a part of you. I would argue our love belongs to our culture, our families, our time period. Who you fall in love with is a social-historical act.”

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